Tuesday 10 February 2015

Cape York

After 3 days provisioning at Siesia we hit the sea lanes again. Siesia was a good provisioning port, the comfortable anchorage was a short dinghy ride from the beach and the water and supermarket were close to the beach. That Sunday at the supermarket, mindful of the absence of meat at the big brand name supermarket in Gove on a Sunday, I asked the staff if they had any roast chickens, not expecting much. The aboriginal staffer (all the staff are aboriginal here, Siesia is an aboriginal mission), turned and looked at a rotisserie which was loaded with brown chickens, and said, “Five minutes?” And of course the meat fridge was fully loaded with vacuum sealed cuts. That supermarket in Gove should give up, these folks here in Siesia know how to run one!

Had a fair sail for 6 hours through the islands, the coastline here, our first patch of Queensland, is noticeably different to elsewhere so far. Greener and mountainous. The tide changed when we entered Endeavour Strait and we couldn’t make it past Cape York. So decided to run for the coast, which happened to be behind York island right adjacent to the cape itself and that’s where we anchored for the night.

Our anchorage, that's Cape York lighthouse over the hill

Rounding the mighty Cape Ashiki had turned a corner in her voyage, she had made the milestone in reaching top of the Aussie continent, sailing over 3,500 Nm since Cape Naturalist in W.A. and commenced the journey down the East coast. We were in the coral coast waters sheltered by the mighty Great Barrier Reef. The scenery continued with its mountainous coastline. Stunning. The next three days was spent fighting headwinds and currents, continuing the pattern of (not) sleeping and periodic peaks out the companionway, just like the previous month, but with the added fun of dodging ships in the shipping channel. One afternoon after a long tack, getting close to a mile of a reef (Hunter Reef), I climbed out of the companionway to tack her around and surprised to see a large power boat alongside us. It had “Customs & Border Protection” emblazoned on its side and 5 or 6 guys staring at me. So I answered the same old questions over the VHF. At the end of it the friendly guys informed we are heading for a reef. Err, thanks, I know. 

Some very agreeable Far North Queensland coastline, and some laundry..

Another time we made a long tack towards the coast, the further from that busy shipping lane the better, to waters where the chart said incomplete survey but soundings were still marked. While sailing along I thought I saw a log coming past, but then noticed is wasn’t bobbing up and down with the chop. Water was splashing over it..  It was a rock! A sharp pointy one in supposedly 13m deep water and Ashiki glided passed it only 30m away. That did freak me out a little, we promptly tacked around and got out of there!

After 3 days we made less than 90 miles made good. Nothing great.. Where were these so called Northerlies that are supposed to be prevalent this time of year? I’m really hating these SSE winds and had forgotten what’s it like to sail even a beam reach let alone downwind. That seemed a distant dream. At this time we came upon Cape Grenville with a sheltered Margaret Bay in its lee and I suggested to Susie we anchor there for better wind. A North wind must show up eventually and we were prepared to sit and wait for it. It’s always a relief to be in a calm anchorage after days of try to live beating into the chop. We had a nice meal and settled into sleep for the night. I woke sometime around midnight and thought I noticed something odd about the boat at anchor. Climbed out the companionway and saw that Ashiki was laying to anchor the other direction, nothing unusual the tide had changed, but the wind was coming on the beam..   Shone a torch on the compass to figure out whats going on. Ashiki is pointing Eastward, therefore the wind is from the Nor…  it.. it’s… it’s a NORTHERLY!! Unbelievable. Nice that we didn’t need to wait long. We didn’t up anchor and go then and there, the sleep was more important at that stage.

The shipping lane complete with car transporter

The next day, the wind was light and from the NE, but what a thrill it was to scud across the bay on a beam reach on flat water. Can’t remember the last time… Winds strengthened throughout the day and Ashiki sailed 78 miles made good in the next 24 hours, alternating between wing on wong and a broad reach. Almost as much as she made in previous three days. We’re liking this favourable winds business. Northerlies up here means light winds interspersed with periods of calms, which is still much better than beating. Even drifting along at 2 knots is great, that’s 2 knots in the direction we actually want to go, still doubles the progress of beating into it. 

A day later we were in the 90 mile straight, it’s a stretch of shipping channel almost a straight line fitting between the reefs, a mile wide swarth. Ashiki held a perfect line a few metres outside the actual channel the whole length, with Tiller Pilot a twitching, gliding along at 1.5 to 5 knots depending on wind strength at the time. There were a lot of ships, all of them bulk carriers, those 700’ long things. At night you see their two steaming lights, one on the bow and a higher one near the stern, this way you can identify which direction they are heading. One light directly above the other tells you it is heading straight for you. In the evening I saw a vessel heading up our stern which looked very different, it appeared to be a solid wall of light. A mile away it turned towards the other side of the channel to avoid us, either seeing our stern light and anchor light on top of the mast, or us on their radar. Considerate of them. Seeing it present its side to me I figured out what is was. 

Passing in the night

A large cruise ship. Passing a half mile off our port beam we could see moving pictures on the top deck. Punters were watching a movie under the stars… completely oblivious to the rigours of sea navigation and a classic example of intrepid sailoring going on just off their starboard rail. Susie and I were sitting in the cockpit watching this spectacle go by, joking about the perpetual all you can eat buffets those people were probably queueing for five times a day, getting fatter by the day. Our fresh food was gone and we were feeling a little peckish, we have several months supply of canned stuff but that’s not the same… Wonder if we had manoeuvred up to them they’d throw us a chicken leg or a dozen, a few tinnies too. I suppose we could’ve bailed them up on the VHF and pleaded starving intrepid sailors nearby.. Cooktown, our next hope for civilisation (and real food) seemed a long way off. Over 200 Nm to go and with the light winds and regular morning calms, at least another four days.

Where did the wind go?
Just to show, this is the Great Barrier Reef!

We were about to make Cooktown, the place Captain Cook careened the Endeavour for repairs, three days later not four, but not wanting a 4am anchoring we stayed the night at a bay 18 miles north of the town. Next morning we were making a sailing entrance into the picturesque town nestled below mountains and anchoring in its shallow creek. I’m liking Queensland already. 350 miles in 9 days, including three nights at anchor. We had made a good start down Australia’s Eastern coast and the cyclone season had just begun.

Anchorage at Cooktown

Cooktown sunset

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